At CES in Las Vegas earlier this year, Google boasted about new ways to use its digital assistant everywhere you go: in the Google Maps app, infotainment systems, and car accessories. Now Google Assistant is available for hardcore users whose cars aren’t so “smart” and can’t work with Android Auto. It’s the first after-market device to bring Google Assistant to the car.
In a partnership with Anker’s Roav brand, the Bolt device brings Google Assistant to your car through your smartphone (be sure to download the Google Assistant app if you don’t have a Pixel phone) via car charging socket and stereo. It’s optimized for Android devices, so iPhone users will have to wait.
You can ask the assistant for directions (it’ll pull up Google Maps on your phone), text your mom, look up nearby restaurants or businesses, play music or podcasts, call someone, have the Assistant read your texts to you, and any other assistant duties like adding items to your to-do list or calendar.
Last week, Tomer Amarilio, a Google product manager, showed me how the accessory works plugged into the cigarette lighter port and with an auxiliary cord so you hear everything through your car speakers. Last week he explained that it’s a way to “make the Assistant part of the car” instead of using your phone on a dashboard dock with harder-to-hear speakers than those in your car.
It’s a bit redundant if you already have the Google Assistant app on your phone and straight-up unnecessary if you have a connected car with Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay. But the accessory is made for a car experience — meaning it can handle loud background noises with its dual microphones and noise reduction built into the small device. So it can pick up your “OK, Google,” wake word even with the radio blaring.
The device is helpful for users who’ve gotten used to voice control in other spaces like their kitchen or living room. Without plugging in a Google Home smart speaker into your car, you can be like one of the 20 million vehicles expected within the next four years to include Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa in the car — even if you’re driving in an older, “low-tech” vehicle.
Amarilio said the accessory is supposed to bring the helpfulness of the Assistant into the car while driving. “The whole point is to have distraction-free driving,” he said.
iPhone users should stick with the Assistant app since the device doesn’t pair well yet with iOS. But the accessory does have two USB charging ports that can charge your iPhone (or any device), so it’s not a total waste if you get one.
Starting Wednesday, the Roav Boalt is at Best Buy stores and online at bestbuy.com and walmart.com. It’ll be in Walmart and Target stores in the next few weeks. It’s $49.99, so not cheap but half of a Google Home smart speaker. Amazon’s slow-to-arrive Echo Auto is going for a special $25 price, but you need an invite to purchase Alexa for your car. Eventually its non-promo price also will be $50.